NWHN in Action – May/June 2015

Taken from the May/June 2015 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need

On March 4th, Network staff braved the cold and rain to rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and voice their support for health insurance subsidies. That was the day the Court heard oral arguments in King v. Burwell, a critically important threat to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At issue is whether the ACA’s premium subsidies are only allowed on the State Exchanges, or can also help people who use the Federal Exchange to get their insurance. The health and well-being of millions of women and their families depend on these subsidies, regardless of where they get their coverage. Without subsidies provided through the Federal exchange, insurance premiums will be too expensive for a huge number of low- and middle-income Americans. (In 2014, more than 9 million women were eligible for subsidies that reduced their health insurance premiums.)

Ahead of the March 4th oral arguments, the Network mobilized the Raising Women’s Voices’ (RWV) regional coordinators to build awareness and respond proactively to the media storm surrounding King v. Burwell. The Network organized a community conference call to discuss women-centered messages, sent out press releases, and collected stories about the ACA’s impact through our new ShareYourStory@nwhn.org email. These materials highlighted the positive impact that affordable health coverage has had on the lives of women and their families. In the coming months, we’ll continue these efforts and mobilize in preparation for the Court’s momentous decision, which is expected this summer.

Keep up with the latest from RWV by visiting: www.raisingwomensvoices.net

We submitted comments about proposed rules for the Summary of Benefits and Coverage and Uniform Glossary (SBC). This critical tool provides consumers with clear and consistent information so they can compare their plan’s benefits, cost-requirements (like co-pays), and coverage exclusions with other options. The SBC should be a “nutrition label” for insurance plans, but we need the federal government to weigh in for these summaries to be useful. Right now, the SBC contains several misleading and/or confusing elements that would hamper a woman’s ability to accurately determine if the coverage she’s buying is affordable and meets her specific needs.
Our comments included a number of recommendations to improve the SBC’s accuracy, transparency, and clarity.

Securing Sexual & Reproductive Health and Autonomy

We were horrified to learn that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) planned to shut the Office on Women’s Health’s Quick Health Data Online system by the end of March — a decision that was made with no public notice. This unique resource (http://www.healthstatus2020.com/owh/index.html) is the most comprehensive database of women’s health statistics in the U.S. and can be used for a variety of powerful analyses.

It is widely used by the public health community, policymakers, researchers, and students. We responded quickly and worked with our allies to send a strongly-worded letter to key HHS leadership that expressed our outrage and displeasure about this happening without any input from the women’s health community. After receiving our letter, HHS postponed the data system’s discontinuation and is re-evaluating the decision; this is a short-term victory that we’ll be working to make sure becomes a long-term one!

In collaboration with our Reproductive Justice allies, the Positive Women’s Network and SisterLove, the Network co-authored a policy brief highlighting gaps in health reform efforts that prevent HIV-positive women from fully accessing the comprehensive health care that they need. The brief, which was released on National Women and Girl’s HIV Awareness Day (March 10th) is the subject of our Feature Article. This brief will support our on-going Congressional advocacy efforts to maintain a strong, long-term commitment to Ryan White funding that works with health reform efforts and meets the treatment, care, and reproductive health care needs of HIV-positive women in the U.S.

Challenging Dangerous Drugs & Devices

A little over a decade ago, the Network publicly supported the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of Essure — a permanent, non-surgical sterilization implant  — as part of our efforts to expand contraceptive choices and make sterilization safer. But, we also expressed concerns about the limited amount of data collected during the clinical trial, the trial’s short length, and the small number of women included in the trials. We called on the manufacturer to explain Essure’s safety and risks in greater detail, and recommended that women have confirmatory tests three months after Essure’s insertion to make sure the device had been placed correctly. In the last few months, we’ve received a growing number of complaints from Essure users about the debilitating side effects and mysterious ailments they’re experiencing. In early 2015, several consumers reached out to the Network and sought our help in encouraging the FDA to investigate these complaints. We’re speaking with the affected consumers and investigating the complaints, and anticipate pursuing this issue further with the FDA. We’ll keep you informed about the situation.